Practice what you preach

Practice what you preach

Engaging Employees with the Power of Creativity.

“Curiosity is hard-wired into the brain, but we’ve been taught to suppress it. Now it’s time for that to change. The workplace — where we spend most of our waking hours and often seek fulfillment — would be an excellent place to start.” — Todd Kashdan, Ph.D.

“Unicorn” … “ideate” … “visionary” … “disrupt” … How many of these buzzwords du jour have you heard on the job? Todd Kashdan says that businesses often pay lip service to the value of curiosity and creativity, but lack the resources, resolve, and structure to genuinely nurture it.

Kashdan, a U.S. psychology professor and senior scientist at the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being at George Mason University in Washington, D.C., believes that empowering employees to express curiosity boosts their productivity, their ability to come up with innovative solutions and, somewhat surprisingly, their sense of well-being.

“The best research in this area indicates that the most curious people are also the most fulfilled,” Kashdan explains. “That’s because curiosity demands that we engage with the world around us right now in a meaningful and complex way. … It sustains interest in a moment we can actually grasp.”

Curiosity expert Dr. Patrick Mussel echoes Kashdan’s enthusiasm for curiosity on the job. Mussel is a German professor and researcher at Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg who studies curiosity with an emphasis on the workplace and was the first to develop a workplace curiosity scale.

“Curiosity fosters learning, and job-related knowledge is one of the most important determinants of job performance,” he explains. “This might be especially true during training, but also from the perspective of life-long learning.”

Mussel adds that curiosity is especially helpful during periods of change, such as when an organization goes through restructuring. “Curious people ask more questions,” he emphasizes, “which is often the key to understanding a person or a problem.”

A Look Into the State of Curiosity in the Workplace

To gain further insight into the role of curiosity on the job, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany surveyed more than 2,600 workers in the United States. The Curiosity Report, which drew on Mussel’s research and was conducted last year by Harris Poll, asked participants questions designed to shed light on the state of professional inquisitiveness, how curiosity is generated in the workplace, and whether or not it can be taught.

Survey respondents working in the fields of entertainment, media, and household and personal products reported working in environments most open to curiosity, while those in the food and beverage industry ranked theirs least open.

Creating a culture of curiosity Kashdan partnered with Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany to analyze the survey’s findings. He identifies three areas that companies might focus on to empower team members to be curious and creative.

Reward questioning — from why things are done the way they are, to why a supervisor or leader holds a particular view.

Emphasize observation — rather than having customers fill out satisfaction surveys, watch what they do, making note of obstacles or other things that impact their experience.

Seek different perspectives — encourage minority voices and ensure that no good idea is lost because of shyness, intimidation, or institutional sexism and racism.